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Tree Trimming 101: Why, When and How to Do It

by BROOKE GOLD HASSON | Feb 07, 2017

Tree Trimming in FloridaHurricanes Hermine and Matthew and the other severe weather that’s been hitting Florida lately clearly demonstrated how trees can pose a serious hazard to your home during a windstorm event.

Every year, falling trees and limbs cause millions of dollars in damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

In addition to keeping your yard looking its best, proper tree trimming and pruning is an important part of home maintenance that will help keep your home – and your family – safe during a storm.

Trimming vs. Pruning: What’s the Difference?

While often used interchangeably, there’s a difference between tree trimming and pruning:

  • Trimming involves shaping small branches to maintain the natural shape or form of a tree.
  • Pruning involves removing dead, loose or infected branches or stems from a tree.

Why Do I Need to Trim and Prune Trees?

Proper tree trimming and pruning is important for several reasons. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), you should trim and prune trees primarily for safety and tree health reasons, followed by aesthetics.

  • Safety: Remove branches that could potentially cause damage to your home if they fall.
  • Tree health: Prune dead branches to help the overall health of the tree. This will also strengthen the tree, making it more resistant to storm damage.
  • Aesthetics: Trim trees to help accentuate how they look and improve flower or fruit production.

When Should I Trim and Prune Trees?

The Arbor Day Foundation recommends pruning trees once a year during the winter, when they are dormant. However, a more immediate pruning may be necessary if a tree has any of the following:

  • Cracks on the trunk or larger limbs
  • Hollow or decayed areas. Mushrooms growing on the bark may indicate a decayed or weakened stem.
  • A lopsided look or notable lean
  • Branches hanging near your house or over the roof
  • Limbs touching a power line
  • V-shaped forks rather than U-shaped ones. V-shaped forks are more likely to split.
  • Crossing branches that rub or interfere with one another

Tree Trimming and Pruning in 3 Simple Steps

Follow these steps for basic tree trimming and pruning:

  1. About 3 inches away from the collar (the thick spot where the parent and child limb intersect), make a cut 1/3 of the way through the underside of the limb.
  2. Cut slightly beyond the first slice, going straight through the limb.
  3. Make a final cut through the remaining portion of the limb, as close to the collar as possible, without touching the collar itself.

For the most part, it’s not necessary to seal the stump that remains after tree trimming. However, if you’re pruning an oak, birch or elm tree, varieties that are prone to disease, you may want to consider applying a non-asphalt-based pruning sealer.

Personal Safety is Key

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reminds that personal safety is key. That’s why you should highly consider hiring a professional arborist for any major trimming or pruning jobs. They have years of experience and will get it done safely and efficiently.

Caring for Trees Before and After the Storm

In addition to pruning trees once a year for overall tree health, we recommend taking the following steps every few months, especially leading up to hurricane season and in January and February, when tornado activity spikes in Florida:

  • Cut weak branches that could easily become flying missiles. To reduce the risk of weak branches in the future, trim any branches that are more than 5 feet long and remove Spanish moss.
  • Remove branches hanging over your home.
  • Contact the local utility company to trim any limbs close to power lines.
  • Have an arborist inspect your trees to assess their resistance to future storm damage.

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